Do you crave watermelon in January? Do you long for a big, hearty bowl of mashed potatoes in August?
Mother Nature has a remarkable way of offering up fresh fruits and vegetables during the seasons when our bodies most need them.
Think about the fresh food that’s commonly grown in and around Cincinnati. If you shop local farmers markets at the height of summer, you’ll find vegetables like tomatoes, cucumber, corn and peppers, and fruits like peaches and berries. What do these foods have in common? For starters, they’re high in water content, which means they taste refreshing on those hot days. They don’t require much — or any — cooking, so we keep the heat out of the kitchen.
Now, consider what’s in season during wintertime: starchy russet and sweet potatoes, dense root vegetables, dark leafy greens and firm squash. High in fiber and carbohydrates, these foods fill and fuel us up during cold months. They lend themselves to roasting and slow cooking.
Eating food that’s in season has many joys and benefits:
- Fruits and vegetables that are picked and eaten in season are at their peak nutrition and freshness. The American Heart Association recommends eating produce in season as part of a healthy eating plan. The most brightly colored fruits and veggies have the most dietary benefits, with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber that can help manage weight and fight disease.
- Seasonal food just flat-out tastes better. Need proof? When would you rather eat a sliced tomato? In the winter, when it’s traveled thousands of miles from a farm far away and been picked unripe in order to make the trip to the grocery shelf, and is flavorless and mealy. Or, in the summer, when that tomato came from a farm less than an hour away (or your own backyard!), is perfectly ripe and juicy and bursting with flavor.
- Eating seasonally is more commonplace among other global cultures. According to noted chef Mario Batali, the Italians have a beautiful word for it: scorpacciata. It means eating something — strawberries, let’s say — as much as you can, in as many ways as you can, for as long as you can, while it’s in season. And then, when you’ve eaten your fill of strawberries, they’re gone and another something wonderful takes their place.
- Freezing and preserving food in season is a great way to extend its deliciousness through the rest of the year. I’ve been scattering blueberries that I picked and froze last summer over my morning oatmeal all winter long. They’ll probably last just until it’s time to pick another bonanza of berries in July.
Does this mean you can’t eat tomatoes in winter? No. Thanks to modern agricultural practices and distribution networks, we can find pretty much any fruit or vegetable we want in the produce section, at any time of the year. But it makes sense to pay attention to what’s in season, and to let that shape your eating habits. Here are a few tips for eating a little more seasonally:
Shop a winter farmers market this month to see what’s available. Buy whatever appeals to you and explore new ways to cook it at home.
If you’re craving tomatoes, know that the tomatoes you’ll find in stores now are not as delicious as they will be come summer. Try maximizing their flavor: For example, roast cherry tomatoes in the oven (with olive oil, salt and pepper) until they’re soft and juicy.
Shake up your eating patterns. This winter, skip the strawberries and watermelon and go for citrus fruit. Make salads with roasted vegetables and toasted nuts instead of lettuce and cucumber.
Plan for next winter. This spring and summer, experiment with “putting up” favorite foods while they’re in season. Tomatoes, berries, corn, homemade pickles, roasted red peppers, salsa and tomato sauce all freeze well for winter eating.